Early on in the coronavirus pandemic when many governments had to introduce lockdown measures during the first COVID-19 wave the World Health Organization (WHO) issued guidance to member states to limit alcohol availability in order to help contain the outbreak, protect health service capacity and promote people’s health. Consequently many countries across the world heeded the advice and implemented various alcohol policy solutions to tackle alcohol’s role in the public health crisis. Most commonly time-based alcohol sales bans were introduced.
As a second wave of COVID-19 infections is sweeping across Europe, many countries are again turning to alcohol policy measures in their efforts to protect people from the virus. This article provides a snap overview of these measures across Europe.
Four dimensions to alcohol’s role in the COVID-19 pandemic
It has become evident, especially since the European summer, that alcohol plays in fact a significant role in the coronavirus crisis. There are four dimensions:
- Alcohol weakens the immune system and thus increases the risk of infection and of more severe COVID-19 disease progression,
- Alcohol is a major risk factor for non-communicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases, which are conditions that contribute to more severe COVID-19 disease progression,
- Alcohol-related disease, violence and injury increase the avoidable burden on healthcare and emergency services which are already near or over capacity during the current public health crisis, and
- Alcohol consumption sites and events have been shown to be hotspots for COVID-19 spread in the wider community.
There is science supporting public health calls for improving alcohol availability measures to contain the Coronavirus.
Alcohol policy in Europe in response to second COVID-19 wave
Following overview is how European countries have restricted alcohol specifically.
Time-based alcohol sales ban after 8:00 PM.
Closure of restaurants and bars except for takeaway until 10:00 PM.
A new set of restrictions – limits on public gatherings, spectators barred from sports events and a late-night alcohol sales ban – went into force on October 26.
Time-based alcohol sales ban between 12:00 midnight to 6:00 AM.
Closure of restaurants and bars at 12:00 midnight.
Ban on alcohol use in public spaces. Non-compliance is punishable by a fine of up to 10,000 Czech Crowns.
National lockdown, closing most non-essential businesses, is in effect till November 20.
Time-based alcohol sales ban after 10:00 PM.
Closure of bars, restaurants and nightclubs in Copenhagen and surrounding areas at 10:00 PM.
Time-based alcohol sales ban between 12:00 midnight and 10:00 AM.
Time-based alcohol sales ban after 12:00 midnight. Closure of establishments that primarily sell alcohol at 1:00 AM.
In regions of Uusimaa, Southwest Finland, Kanta-Häme, Pirkanmaa and Ostrobothnia there is an alcohol sales ban beginning 10:00 PM, establishments that primarily sell alcohol must close by 11:00 PM.
There is a €300 for people who consume alcohol 100 meters within a pub and a fine of €1,500 for the license holder. The government is considering fines up to €300 for people gathering outside to consume alcohol under proposal to the cabinet.
Closure of bars coupled with ban on alcohol sale in snack bars and kiosks.
Time-based alcohol sales ban after 8:00 PM. Ban on carrying or consuming alcohol in public spaces between 8:00 PM to 7:00 AM.
Closure of all shops except for supermarkets at 8:00 PM.
Partial lockdown is in effect with closure of restaurants and bars except for take away.
Time-based alcohol sales ban after 12:00 midnight.
In the middle of October, the Polish government introduced a time-based alcohol sales ban of 7:00 PM. The alcohol availability rules were improved to help curb the spread of coronavirus which has accelerated again in Poland.
Two week closure of restaurants and bars in effect since October 23.
New lockdown restrictions in effect from November 4 for 121 municipalities with high infection rates.
Earlier measures included ban on alcohol sales at service stations. Time-based ban on alcohol sales after 8:00 PM in shops, including supermarkets. Ban on alcohol consumption in public spaces except if it is part of a meal service.
Pubs, cafes, restaurants banned from sale of alcohol from the 4th of December and curfew of 6:00 PM implemented.
Other restrictions which limit access to alcohol
Apart from the specific alcohol restrictions mentioned above, many countries have broad restrictions on restaurants, pubs, bars operation times, with some restricting to only takeaway. Several countries are also in varying degrees of lockdown. All such measures also work to reduce access to alcohol even though not specifically targeted to alcohol. An overview of such broad measures are given below.
On local level authorities have introduced some restrictive measures to curb rising coronavirus infections, such as banning public events or closing bars and restaurants.
Currently under national lockdown since October 30.
All bars and restaurants are closed. Some cities and regions, such as Lyon, Toulouse and Nice, had previously restricted the ability to buy or consume alcohol in public spaces.
Partial lockdown since November 2, including the closure of restaurants and bars except for takeaway.
Previously there were time-based alcohol sales bans in the night in major cities including Berlin, Frankfurt and Stuttgart.
A 12:30 AM to 5:00 AM curfew is in place nationally.
Establishments including restaurants, cafes and clubs are closed.
Thessaloniki city and the northern province of Serres are under local restrictions with a curfew of 9:00 PM to 5:00 AM.
Closure of all entertainment venues by 11:00 PM, but there are no specific policy measures regarding alcohol availability.
As of October 26, bars and restaurants have been put under curfew as gyms, swimming pools, cinemas, and theaters have also been closed.
Three-tier framework for restrictions implemented since November 4. Restaurants and bars closed in red and orange zones.
In the big cities of Bucharest, Cluj and Timisoara bars and restaurants, cinemas and theatres have closed.
Nationwide curfew between 11:00 PM to 6:00 AM, since October 25.
Night-time curfew and the closure of all non-essential shops, bars and restaurants.
Republic of Ireland
Back in lockdown as of October 21: nonessential businesses are closed and people are asked to once again stay home.
Restaurants and bars closed except for takeaway.
United Kingdom (UK)
England is currently in a four week temporary lockdown till December 2. Wales is in lockdown till November 9 and Northern Ireland is in lockdown for four weeks. Scotland has moved to a five tier system of restrictions.
In England and Northern Ireland pubs, bars and restaurants are closed except for takeaway and delivery till 11:00 PM. In Wales, pubs, bars and restaurants are closed.
In Scotland as per the five tier system, there are levels of restriction. From level three upwards alcohol can not be served in restaurants and pubs. Closing time for restaurants and pubs vary depending on level.
Unfortunately while many countries in Europe are improving alcohol policy measures regarding alcohol availability, some countries have also weakened their alcohol policy measures during the pandemic.
For instance, Latvia has allowed for online alcohol sale and delivery – which was brought in during the three month-long lockdown – and is set to continue even as lockdown measures are being relaxed across the country.
Scientific evidence regarding alcohol availability during COVID-19
Experts have questioned whether reducing opening hours in pubs and restaurants actually helps with containing the spread of COVID-19. In terms of limiting contact between people a study by the London School for Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) in UK found that neither the 6:00 PM or 10:00 PM closing time had a significant effect on reducing contact between people.
Instead of reducing opening hours, public health experts advise that pubs, bars and restaurants should be closed in COVID-19 high-risk areas.
However, reducing alcohol availability beyond closing time restrictions can reduce contact between people. Alcohol consumption often takes place in crowded social gatherings and adversely affects alcohol user’s cognitive functioning and thus their capacity to correctly analyze risks. With COVID-19 this often means not adhering to health guidelines and ignoring physical distancing measures. A study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that among young adults with heavy alcohol use, adherence to public policies like stay-at-home orders is suboptimal, declines over time, and is associated with alcohol use events.
Given that alcohol weakens the immune system and that it burdens health systems improving alcohol availability measures is an effective solution to help contain the spread of the coronavirus in Europe.
[This article was edited on November 24th 2020 as per new information from RTE]
[This article was edited on December 11th 2020 as per new information from Independent UK]
For further reading
Alcohol and COVID-19: Why Now Is the Time to Tackle Alcohol Harm
Guest expert opinion by Dr Kieran Bunn
COVID-19 and Alcohol – Consumption Data Strengthens Case for Ambitious Alcohol Policy
Global Voice expert analysis by Kalle Dramstad
Polish News: “Europe is reducing alcohol consumption in times of pandemic“
Morning Advertiser: “Who did it best? How other countries are treating pubs during Covid-19 second spike”
Balkan Insight: “COVID-19 Surges as South-East Europe Heads for Winter“
European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control: “National information resources on COVID-19“
Belgian Government: “Coronavirus COVID-19 Current Measures“
Total Croatia News: “50-Person Limit for Public Gatherings, Late-Night Alcohol Sale Banned“
Ministry of Health of Czech Republic: “Covid-19 epidemic in the Czech Republic“
Berlin, Germany: The Governing Mayor of Berlin Senate Chancellery: “Measures against coronavirus“
Xinhua net: “Malta tightens COVID-19 restrictions“
UK: Hospitality and Catering News: “Government guidance confirms hospitality not allowed to sell takeaway alcohol during lockdown“
In Your Pocket: “Covid-19: Latvia’s lockdown is lifted“